A Verse by Verse Study on Romans 3:1-20
In Romans 2, Paul explains that being God’s chosen people has not saved a Jewish person. But if this is the case, what is the advantage of being God’s chosen people? Is there any? And why did God bother to give them his law? Paul answers these questions in Romans 3: 1-20, but Romans 3 also reminds us of God’s faithfulness. If you are looking for verses about God’s faithfulness, look no further!
What Value is There in Being Chosen?
In verse 1, Paul asks the question is there any value in being a Jew, or in the ceremony of circumcision?
And in verse 2 Paul answers that question with an emphatic ‘YES!‘ He says there are great benefits!
First, Paul states that the Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God – his very words – which is an indescribable gift! This can be seen as their prime privilege: it was their calling to preserve and pass down the very words of God. Paul will give more reasons later on in Romans 9, but for now he moves on because his goal in these next verses is to tell us that God is faithful. God selected the Jewish nation to be his chosen people, and although they were unfaithful, he remains faithful.
God Is Faithful Even When We Are Not
His faithfulness does not depend on how good we are, or whether or not we ever mess up. The Jews completely rejected Jesus as their Messiah, yet God continues to be faithful to them even today.
In verse 3 the New Living Translation (NLT) says ‘True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean that God will be unfaithful?‘. When we read this verse, we might think this is implying that some followers of God stopped being committed, or willfully acted in defiance or disobedience. But if you look at the New King James Version (NKJV) it says this: ‘For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?‘
I believe the better translation for “unfaithful” in these verses is disbelief. The Jewish people, as a nation, rejected the gospel. They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. But God, knowing they would not believe, chose them as His special people and made a covenant with them anyway. Their rejection of Jesus did not mean that God’s faithfulness to them was in vain, and it does not mean that God won’t keep his promises.
God Faithfulness is Perfect
This is not a human concept, is it? I mean, this does not happen! If people become unfaithful to us, stop believing in us or outright reject us, we will reject them. Our belief in people, even our love for people, is conditional – the condition that they will reciprocate. But the Bible tells us that God’s love and faithfulness to us is unconditional (I John 4:9-10). We can have faith in God no matter our circumstances, or our current conditions.
Verse 4 says that even if everyone else is a liar, God is true. He cannot lie. God cannot change and his word, like himself, is unchanging. God declares that he is faithful and that will not change. We truly can trust in God. We proclaim the words, ‘In God we trust’, but do we truly believe that? Romans tells us we have every reason to.
Is God Truly Fair and Just?
In the next verses, Paul now plays devil’s advocate and presents three counterarguments to his claim that God is fair and just. He wants to make certain that there is no doubt that, not only are we all sinners, but we also fairly and justly deserve judgment.
Verse 5 states Paul’s first counterargument: Our sinfulness serves a good purpose, because it helps others see how righteous God is. So it is unfair to punish us for being sinful if it points others to God and his righteousness. The ends justify the means. If a bad thing results in good, then we should ignore, or even accept the bad thing.
Paul says this is merely a human perspective, not God’s perspective.
In verse 6, Paul argues that God would only be qualified to judge the world if he was entirely fair.
Verse 7 states Paul’s second counterargument: How can God condemn me, as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?
God’s Mercy & Grace Is Not License to Sin
And Paul’s third counterargument in verse 8 says ‘the more we sin, the better it is‘. The New International Version (NIV) puts it this way: ‘let us do evil that good may result‘. People were familiar with the line of thinking that said that, since God is in control of everything, even our evil will ultimately bring about good. But Paul is saying that we are wrongly justifying our sinfulness. Although God may use our wickedness for good, it’s still our wickedness. There is no good or pure motive in our hearts, and it is no credit to us that God brought good out of it.
Paul allows the senselessness of these counterarguments to speak for themselves. Rather than further disqualify these statements, he simply concludes that people who say these things deserve to be condemned. Warping the amazing free gift from God into a license to sin is really the height of man’s wickedness.
Now in verses 9-20, Paul gives his final address and concluding remarks about how the entire world is guilty before God.
In verse 9, Paul concludes that no one is better, or better off. He says that all of mankind is in the same boat – they are all under the power of sin, ‘slaves to sin’, meaning that we are bound to sin, and we cannot free ourselves from it.
Evidence for God’s Justness & Fairness
In verse 10-18, Paul now lists Old Testament Scripture as witnesses to man’s sinful nature and guilt. Quoting from the Old Testament was important, particularly when teaching the Jews, because the Old Testament was upheld as God’s Word.
Verse 10-12 which comes from Psalms 14:1-3 and Psalms 53: 1-3, tells us no one is righteous.
Verse 13 which comes from Psalms 55: 9, 140:3, and verse 14 which comes from Psalms 10:7, tells us that nothing good comes out of our mouths, only deceit and poison.
Verse 15-17 comes from Isaiah 59:7-8, and tells us that we are quick to violence, leaving destruction and misery everywhere we go, and we can’t find peace.
And finally verse 18 which comes from Psalms 36 tells us that ‘we have no fear of God at all.’
This summarizes Paul’s entire argument. By ‘fear of God‘ Paul does not mean being afraid of God, but rather that every sin and rebellion against God happens because we do not have a proper respect for him.
Do We Trust in God?
This complete lack of respect is another reason why some people have a hard time trusting God. They don’t realize just how big God truly is and how he does not go back on his word or his plans.
In verses 19-20, Paul now sums up his argument that we are all guilty. Man’s sinfulness is pointed out to us by the law, which is why it was given to us. The law silences every critic and demonstrates that the entire world is guilty before God. Obeying the law then cannot save us. It only serves to point out our sinfulness.
Since the time of Adam and Eve, people have been trying to justify themselves by obeying God’s laws and performing good works. But this is simply not enough! We can’t earn God’s faithfulness. God is faithful despite who we are.
How Should We Respond?
Knowing God will always be faithful, we in turn can have faith in, and be faithful to, God. There isn’t anything or anyone in this world that we can truly have faith in other than God. No one other than God is 100% dependable.
What Should We Do Grow in Our Faith?
The obvious advice is always read your Bible and pray. Don’t discount these two things, both are necessary to grow in your faith and walk with Christ.
But let me offer one other practical way. Here’s a tool that has really helped me to see, and recall when most needed, that God has been faithful specifically to me. I keep a journal which I use to write down all the events and moments when I’ve experienced God’s faithfulness in my life. Even just the simplest of moments, when I’ve felt overwhelmed, but he was faithful in bringing me calm and peace. In the busyness and fast pace of life, it’s so easy to forget all these details, and when we look back, we may not remember how he has been faithful to us. So faithful!
In the next blog post, we will take a closer look at the rest of Romans 3, which will tell us what, or more specifically who, can justify us before God.